How to change a tire. A lesson in delegation.


“I smell burning rubber” my wife casually mentioned, barely audible over the din of heavily accented English coming from the back seat where our two teenaged boys and two of their friends were reenacting their favorite scenes from the movie “Borat”. The six of us had crammed ourselves and all of our gear into our small German station wagon and were a couple of hours on the road to Schweitzer Mountain Resort for a week of skiing.   The tires being the only possible source of this unmistakable odor, I pulled over onto the shoulder of east bound I-90 and did a quick inspection. The front tires checked out ok, but the rear tires, subjected to the greater than usual load now wedged into the wagon were rather severely under inflated and smoking somewhat alarmingly. Getting back on the road, we had nearly made it to the next exit for a shot of air when the left rear tire blew out. Cutting loose with a string of expletives, I pulled over again to the shoulder and began grimly unloading the wagon as the spare and jack were located in the well under the rear deck. With everything that I had spent hours carefully packing now stacked on the side of the freeway, I for the first time since we had purchased the car opened the small box containing the jack and was quite unprepared for what I found inside.

If you are used to driving American made cars, the jacks supplied with them are nearly unanimously self-explanatory objects. No instructions needed. They are simple and intuitive to use. What now spilled out of the small black box when I turned it over was a remarkable example of German over engineering. It more resembled a very complicated surgical rib spreader than any car jack I had ever seen. Dis-assembled in about fifteen parts, most of them plastic, none of which looked like it was capable of lifting a car off the ground, the box also contained a small booklet with instructions on how to assemble and use the jack. Opening the booklet, I noticed with mild disgust that it was printed in German. I don’t speak German. It was starting to rain.

Using the illustrations in the booklet, I managed to get the jack constructed in what looked roughly like the pictures supplied. Finding the small slot under the rear door, inserting and setting the jack, I instructed all to exit the car into what was now a steady rain. The jack seemed to be working fine and I took part of the load, loosened the lugs, and continued lifting. As the jack took the full weight of the car, I cranked the handle for all I was worth in the interests of getting the tire changed and the car re-loaded before the clouds really opened up.  As the car reached the necessary height for the wheel to clear the hub, I noticed that the main support leg of the jack that pivoted around a pair of plastic pegs was beginning to spread a bit. Before I could react to this unwelcome observation, the plastic pegs sheared off and the car returned quickly and violently to the ground, squirting the jack out from under it like a watermelon seed between thumb and forefinger and into the middle freeway lane where it was immediately struck by a passing semi rig sending it hurtling eastbound in pieces. My earlier mild disgust was now evolving into an insane rage. The in my opinion unnecessary complexity of the jack and its accompanying introductory lesson in German were conspiring to showcase my ineptitude in the ability to perform this simplest of manly feats, the competent roadside changing of a tire, causing a veil of red to now descend over my field of vision. With four impressionable teenage boys and my wife looking on expectantly for a calm and reasoned response to this turn of events, I instead took a running start and hurled the lug wrench into the woods at roadside while at the same time losing my footing, falling flat on my back in the viscous goo just off of the shoulder. My watch band gave out at the same instant, and my moderately expensive time piece followed the same trajectory as the wrench into the thick brush. Witnessing such a mature and reasoned reaction to adversity, my eldest son exclaimed “That was awesome Dad!!” in a thick Khazak accent, his brother and friends laughing heartily in agreement. Regaining my footing, I made eye contact with my now soaking wet wife. She was wearing a look that said the preceeding fifteen minutes had been quite substantially less than awesome in her opinion. With no other course now available other than making that shameful phone call, the one normally reserved for old women or male hairdressers, I took the card from my wifes purse and dialed AAA. In the mean time my wife had instructed the boys to get back in the car. Opening the front passenger side door, she reached in and tossed me my ski jacket, then climbed in herself and slammed the door shut. Evidently I was to wait outside for the tow truck to arrive.

There comes a time in every mans life when he must embrace the fact that he is past the point of personally rescuing his loved ones with chest beating bravado and macho acts of self perceived heroism. That  those around him care little in how certain tasks are accomplished, only that they are indeed accomplished in short order with minimal unwanted drama. I have reached this point in my life. Next time the tow truck gets the call immediately, and the jack remains under the rear deck where God and AAA intended.


18 responses to “How to change a tire. A lesson in delegation.

  1. “That was awesome Dad!!”

    The approved response to this comment is:

    “I brought you into this world and I can take you out.”

  2. Bought my own jack and lug wrench right away. Have never used the set that came with the truck, because it looks like it is barely suited to lift a Huffy, much less a half-ton pickup.

    “I brought you into this world and I can take you out.”

    The son’s approved response to that comment is:

    “Like you did with that watch?”

  3. In that same vein, I learned the hard way that the factory supplied jack is of no value after installation of a 6″ lift and 35″ tires.

    “east bound I-5”??

  4. A simple piston hydraulic has always worked best for me but there is nowhere on that damned German car to place one without punching a hole through the floor.

  5. Oops! That would be east bound 90! Why doesn’t spell check correct this sort of thing?

  6. Ninety does make more sense than five. It can get quite desolate in those parts. “Rambo: First Blood” was filmed out there. Ted Bundy disposed of the bodies out there. This time of year, it looks more cheerful than normal.

    Re TIK#188, substitute “In Proximity” in place of “In The Room” I guess. I shall have to go back and amend.

  7. You’d think something like a car jack would have my back in such a situation. That it sided with Michelle in making me look the fool is disappointing to say the least. I will remember TIK#188 in the future and plan pre-emptively.

  8. Morgan,

    Your story reminds me too much of the time my best friend offered to take me for a ride in a Mercedes Benz. Turns out the car belonged to a friend of his father’s and my best friend was supposed to be “watching” the gentleman’s house and cars while he was vacationing in Europe. My normally sensible, responsible, college graduate friend shows up in this late-model, imported straight-from-Germany MB Panzerwagon and procedes to tool around town and out to the burbs.

    While showing me the impressive acceleration of this Benz, suddenly we hear this ‘thump-thump-thump’ noise coming from the rear of the car. I informed my friend we had a flat (I’d had enough flat tires in my life to know EXACTLY what that sound was). We pulled over and then the fun started.

    Remember that part about the MB being imported straight from Germany? Of course that meant the owners manual and all the placards were in GERMAN. Neither my friend or I read or speak German. It took us two minutes to figure out where the f*&^ing jack was in the trunk. When we did find it, it looked like a little coffee grinder with a peg sticking out of it. Then it took another two minutes to figure out the peg stuck in a hole in the rocker panel, and you turned the crank to lift the car.

    Then it began to rain. Think you get any sympathy or offers of help changing a flat tire in the rain on a Benz? HA!

    Of course, the technicians at the MB dealer bolted the lug nuts on with an impact wrench, so my friend had to jump up and down on the lugwrench to break the bolts free.

    It took about twenty five minutes to get that f%$#ing tire off and the spare on. I now understand why so many German troops just abandoned their Panther and Tiger tanks on the battleground instead of trying to fix them. As I told a friend who was getting pressure from a BMW dealer to buy a new Beemer and gave her the line “You deserve the excellence”, her reply should be “If German engineering is so damned excellent, why did you guys lose two wars last century?”

  9. Don’t get me wrong, the Audi is a fabulous car. The fit and finish is really something and when you hit the gas, it goes.

    It’s just that in some aspects, a little less would be more. I would say to some German engineers in these sort of circumstances, “In the words of Ike Turner in an interview regarding Tina,” “You be thinkin’ too much.”

  10. The week before last I rescued a lady whose battery had died. Funny thing was, she was already fully equipped — jumper cable, car with good battery already idling, the only thing missing was a strong man. She was afraid to make the final connections, didn’t want something blowing up in her face.

    Well, the car that was running was a BMW. The battery’s in the back. So this was a learning experience for me. And it wouldn’t be a problem…but for the angle at which the jumper cable handle is squeezed to fasten. We just couldn’t get a good connection there. It just took a lot of manhandling before the other car could get enough voltage to turn over.

    Her story, combined with yours, adds up to one thing: German vehicles are built to be driven and that’s about all. It’s as if some bizarre tradition started during the Third Reich that if you’re disabled, you deserve to be stranded, and it continues ’til today.

  11. Years ago I owned an English Car. ’61 Austin Healey 3000. It was built to be looked at and maintained rather than driven.

    It sure was pretty but it handled like a tractor and I spent more time under it than in it.

    It did have a reliable jack however. And all you needed to remove a wheel was a brass hammer (or a rock, whatever was handy) to remove the spin-off from the hub.

  12. If one can afford to drive ANY British or German vehicle you can afford a chauffeur too. Let him change the bloody flat.

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  14. My first BMW flat tire was a similar learning opportunity, complete with the over-torqued lug nuts. The Z-shaped tire iron is ideal for standing on to give that extra oomph. Unfortunately, it’s also exactly the right size and shape to spin around on the loosened nut and whack you right in the #$%@!~&!#* shin. Best of all, a dismounted tire from a BMW Z3 is too big for the trunk, so you have to bungee it in. Ah, the joys of the open road.

    Since then, every new Bimmer (I’m on #3) gets a maintenance drill shortly after following me home: find all the fluid caps, find the battery, find the jack, spare, and tire iron, and practice changing a tire. Old GIs know you shouldn’t do anything tricky or dangerous for the very first time in the dark and rain (or under fire).

    Of course, my new Z4 has Z-profile run-flat tires and NO SPARE TIRE…LOOK MA, NO HANDS! I’ve already trashed a tire, and yes, run-flats do. Let some poor bastard at the tire store change that puppy–at $300 a pop, it’s the least he can do.

  15. I am going to print this out and show it in mitigation for when it happens to me!

  16. Just got around to reading this. Get a Citroen, it jacks itself up and has only one lug nut. I changed several flats on ours back in the old days. Of course, if anything else goes wrong with it, you’re out of luck as they aren’t serviced much in the U.S.A.

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